Pachinko by Lee Min-jin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A saga of Korean immigrants that covers three generations of a family and their strife and trials as they try to assimilate into Japanese society. The story is fascinating as it highlights the issues of Korean culture and the discrimination they faced at the hands of their colonisers, the Japanese. It tackles the issue of what it means to be a Korean living in Japan at the turn of the century and up until the 21st century. Identity remains at the core of this heart wrenching family saga.
The story begins with Sunja who along with her mother runs a boarding house for working class men. They lead a hard, simple life. Sunja's attraction for a wealthy man who is much older than her leaves her pregnant. But she refuses his offer of becoming his mistress and instead marries the minister who is staying at their boarding house, moving with him to Japan. Even though Sunja's story is central to the book, it is as much a book of the secondary characters who come into her life and those of her children. Among the many themes that the book covers, I particularly liked the mother-daughter equations in the context of "choice". Sunja's relationship with her mother and that of Hana with her parent are striking and heart-wrenching.
My major quibble with this book is the writing style. The narrative is disjointed and jerky, flitting from one character's story to another with huge leaps in time. At times it feels like the author prefers to leave a dramatic situation mid-way instead of milking it for more emotion.
At the end of the book, an interview with the author reveals the significant role pachinko parlours (a kind of gambling den) have played in the lives of Korean immigrants. However, this aspect is not given enough play in the book and comes in too late to justify the title of the book.
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book as it gave me insights into the Korean and Japanese cultures.
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